In 1874, the island of Tasmania, one hundred fifty miles off the southeast coast of Australia, is boiling with rage. Once a penal colony filled with the hardest criminals, and the site of almost total genocide of the original aboriginal inhabitants by the British, Tasmania, in 1874, is a seething cauldron of hungry men and the toughest of women, many of them homeless, trying to survive the only way they know – by using whatever weapons they have at hand to gain what they need to stay alive. The action and points of view alternate among William Toosey, age twelve, and the life he is leading after his mother’s death; Thomas Toosey, his estranged father, who is trying to reach his son William from another part of the island so he can help him; Fitheal Flynn and a “hooded man” who are trying to get back the money that Toosey has stolen from them; and Beatty and Webster, the local constables who are trying to capture any and all of them. Additional connections between Toosey and Fitheal Flynn and his hooded accomplice explain why Flynn’s hatred of Toosey is so visceral and unyielding and why he is willing to fight Toosey to the death. One more character, Jane Eleanor Hall, whose head is shaved and is thought, at first, to be a man, adds to the complexities and mysterious identities when she finds Flynn and his companion hiding in her house and offers to help them find Toosey if they pay her for her help. As in other gothic novels, the action here comes fast and furious, with elaborate descriptions bringing it alive, and violence the usual result of interactions of characters. Interestingly, the “hero” here, young William Toosey, and the anti-hero, Thomas Toosey, are from the same family and have some love for each other, adding a humanizing, if not sentimental, touch.
Category Archive for 'Tasmania'
The “sensitivity” of Japanese soldiers, their “wisdom in understanding,” and the “higher side of themselves” which they celebrate in the novel were lost on the allied Prisoners of War under their control, and these qualities will be just as lost on readers of this novel as they read about unconscionable examples of gross inhumanity. Set during World War II, when many Australians became POWs after the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese, the novel details the brutality of the conquerors, their starvation of prisoners, their forcing of dying soldiers to work until they collapsed and expired, their murders and tortures, and even their use of conscious prisoners as guinea pigs for Japanese officers who wanted to test their bayonets. The sadism which paralleled the officers’ interest in poetry was cultivated and celebrated among themselves as proof of their dedication to the Emperor, who could do no wrong. Much of the action here takes place during the building of the Siam to Burma Railway, known as the Death Railway, which the Emperor wanted finished immediately so that it could eventually be extended to India. Balanced against these horrors, which Flanagan depicts in grim and uncompromising imagery, is a non-traditional love story, which shows aspects of the Australian society from which most of the soldiers have come and hope to return, and particularly the society of Tasmania, which several main characters call home and where author Richard Flanagan himself grew up and has spent most of his life.
Dark, stark and potent in its story and its message, Past the Shallows reduces life to its most basic elements as perceived by two young brothers, Miles and Harry Curren, who share the story of their uncertain lives on an island at the tail end of the inhabited world. Tasmania, off the south coast of Australia, where their father fishes for abalone in the dark water, offers no refuge, either physically or emotionally from fate and the elements – just open water from there all the way to Antarctica. As difficult as the setting may be, the boys’ dysfunctional family is worse. The boy’s father, a threatening and often intemperate “hard man,” offers the young boys no emotional refuge from difficult lives made worse by his drinking and irrational behavior. Their older brother Joe is living at his grandfather’s house, clearing it out after his death. Their mother died so long ago that they remember almost nothing of her or the car crash which killed her, just occasional flashes of memory of the ride they shared with her up to the fatal moment. The only woman with whom they have any contact is their Aunty Jean, whose own attitudes toward them alternate between callous indifference and the kind of caring that usually arises more from obligation than from love. There is no softness, no caring love from anyone in their lives. Lovers of literary fiction will find this novel a welcome change from some of the stylized narratives and artificial constructs which sometimes pass for “literary,” and book clubs – and teachers of young adults – will find this novel a never-ending source of lively discussion.
From September, 1829, until early 1831, the British government overseeing the rule of Tasmania as part of its Australian colony, engaged in establishing the shameful “Black Line,” part of its Black War to remove all blacks in Tasmania. Numerous clans of aborigines, who hunted and farmed “their” Tasmanian lands at will for uncounted generations learned to hate the whites who appropriated their lands at will, destroyed their farms and habitat, and killed them and their families to take over their traditional lands. Rohan Wilson, a Tasmanian himself, tells the brutal story of the Black Line in the northeast part of Tasmania, in which a white farmer, John Batman, and Manalargena, an aborigine leader, among others, engage in a genocide sanctioned by Colonial Governor George Arthur on behalf of the British crown. As Wilson presents the bloody story of this period, he is sensitive to the historical record, telling of events as they happened, while also paying attention to the incalculable effects of this war on the aborigine people, either through warfare or through the transporting of the few survivors of this war to mainland Australia. His main characters are real and are presented realistically, not as stereotypes of good and evil as they struggle to survive.
Winner of an extraordinary number of literary prizes in Tasmania, Australia, and England, including the London Observer’s Book of the Year Award, WANTING by Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan emphasizes, by its ambiguous title, two of the most contradictory characteristics of Queen Victoria’s reign—the “wanting,” or desire, to conquer other lands and bring “civilization” to them, and the “want,” or lack, of empathy and respect for the people and cultures which they deliberately destroy in the process. The same contradictory characteristics are also reflected in the personal relationships of the socially prominent men and women of the era, some of whom we meet here. As the action moves back and forth between Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania) and London and from 1839 through the 1840s and 1850s, Flanagan gives depth to the bleak picture of colonial life, creating an emotionally wrenching portrait of Mathinna, orphaned child of aborigine King Romeo, as she is wrested from her countrymen, exiled on Flinders Island, and brought into the home of the ambitious Lady Jane Franklin. Determined to prove that this savage can be civilized, Lady Jane forces the child to imitate a proper British young lady in her education, dress, and demeanor, allowing her no connections to her past but providing nothing of value in its place. Outstanding and memorable novel.